Monday, 2 October 2017

Gwales Review of Better Houses: 'Readers of all types will find something marvellous here.'

Susie Wild’s new collection of poems opens doors and invites the reader into a range of lives. The theme of houses comes through as Wild offers us glimpses of family life taking place in houses. People move into new houses or leave old ones, or simply transit through places as they shift from one phase of life to another. The act of buying and selling houses plays a role, as does filling them with furniture. 

The first poem in the book, ‘Build the Table First’, uses the construction of furniture as a metaphor for building a new life as a couple. Wild starts with concrete imagery, saying ‘I need breakable glasses / for each re-enacted fight’ and then moves to a more stream-of-consciousness style in lines such as these, ‘I want flamingoes / in flight; a thought that looks like / broccoli, blood, so much / fake blood.’ Her shifts of language take us into new places that are both strange and familiar at the same time. 

In ‘And, in the Aftermath’, the act of building flat-pack furniture becomes a way for a couple to reassemble their relationship after a falling out, ‘the banana / slip / of the night before.’ She uses language deftly here, finding fresh turns of phrase that allow us to see the familiar in new ways. Sometimes she controls the shape of the poem on the page to suggest something about the topic - in this case, the word ‘slip’ has slipped to the far right of the page, just like a foot that slides out from under a person slipping on a banana peel. This approach can add to the poem’s meaning, or simply provide a visual representation of the topic, as in ‘Baby Shower’, which is arranged on the page to look like a pregnant belly. 

Many of these poems are written in the form of a series of commands addressed to an unnamed person, whether a specific person she knows or perhaps the reader more generally. In ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Mourning’, she tells her interlocutor how to trap hawk-moths, perhaps as a way of preserving the memory of someone who has passed away. The stories behind these poems are only hinted at, which opens up the possibility of more resonance for the reader. 

The title poem of this collection is a masterful picture of images and sensations as relationships quiver like bubbles and then settle into place. An activity as mundane as a picnic takes on an iridescent sheen. When an interloper crashes in, asking ‘Is this your place?’, she responds, ‘It is now. / I watch myself float / away. Watch myself burst. / Watch myself stay.’ She has moved into a better house and invited us in with her. 

Not all of the pictures are as bright as bubbles. There are several references to fire and loss, often only hinted at. Houses can contain danger or be at risk themselves. Some poems hint at a love affair gone wrong, while in others the core relationship leaves us with a very grounded sense. The last poem, ‘Inside You’, gives us a conundrum – the ‘inside you’ and the ‘outside you’ are contrasted, one locked out of the house by the other. The ‘outside you’ tries to get into the house, berated by the ‘inside you’ for not behaving like a ‘decent human being’. Perhaps this is the message she wants to leave us with, the importance of opening doors and allowing for reintegration within an individual as well as across relationships through decency and kindness. 

Readers of all types will find something marvellous here. 

Mary Jacob 

 A review from, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.

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